The showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal against the Italian teens took center stage Monday at the French Open for the conclusion of the fourth round.
Djokovic met former practice partner Lorenzo Musetti and the youngster gave him a handful. Playing in his first Major and first center court, the 19-year-old Musetti hung tough with the World No. 1 ripping winners and forcing the Serb off his game.
The two would exchange breaks but in the first set breaker, it was Musetti coming ahead.
The second set was more of the same. But in the second set breaker, Djokovic unraveled and after two hours the 18-time Slam winner was down two sets.
Djokovic left the court for a clothing change and a refresh, and returned a new man. Meanwhile, Musetti who is a perfect 10-0 in tiebreaker, was gassed after peaking for the first two sets. Ninety minutes later, the teen gave up. Down 4-0, Musetti had had enough. Djokovic won 16 of the last 17 games to win it 6-7(7), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.
“I would say, more nervous when I was starting the match than when I was two sets down,” Djokovic said.
“To be honest, I even liked the fact that I lost first couple of sets, I just played under certain kind of tension and wasn’t able to go through my shots, too many unforced errors and just not playing and not feeling great in the first couple of sets.
“But credit to him for playing well in important moments. After I lost the second set and went out to change and came back on the court, I just felt different. I was a different player. I have had better feeling in my shots. I had just more confidence going through the ball. I decreased the amount of errors. Started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning.”
Despite the loss, the first two sets showed Musetti, who was fighting cramps and back issues at the end, that he belonged.
“I came here to play my first Grand Slam in the main draw, and I made second week taking two sets against the World No. 1,” said Musetti. “I think I take away a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions, but a lot of experience. Now I know how can I play, how far I am from the on the Tour, like Nole. So I know that if I play good I can stay at this level. I will go home, rest a bit, and work for Wimbledon.”
Djokovic now takes on another Italian Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday.
“Big serve, big forehand, two big weapons,” said Djokovic looking ahead. “He’s in form. He finished the last year very strong. He started this year strong as well, beating Dominic Thiem in Australia, playing really good ATP Cup. He just has so much firepower in his game. Need to be at best in order to have a chance to win.”
Rafael Nadal also was in a bit of trouble early against powerful Jannik Sinner. The 19-year-old served for the first set at 5-3, but much like his bid to upset Nadal last October, couldn’t close. Nadal fought back ultimately winning 16 of the next 19 games for a 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 win. The Italian tossed in 40 unforced errors.
“I think I started the first two games playing great,” Nadal said. “Then I had a bad game with 2-0 and with the wind helping, so that was a big mistake. Then I started to play too much against his backhand and too far from the baseline.
“I gave him the chance to be inside the court and to have control of the point from inside. From that position he’s dangerous. I was a little bit farther every time from the baseline.
“From that moment to 7-5, 4-0 I think I played a very good level of tennis,” Nadal said. “Then again, couple of mistakes and he played well, honestly. 4-3 until that moment to the end of the match, I think I played great.”
Sinner falls to 0-3 against Nadal and 0-8 in sets.
“I was up, serving for the set in the first set, but, it’s a long way to go to win against Rafa. Obviously very disappointed how it went today. But as I said, he played better than me,” said Sinner.
“In the beginning he was playing well. Then at some point he was not pushing anymore the ball that hard, so I went up with the break. Then after he changed it once more. So the way to become to that level is very long, still very, very long. And, yeah, I just can say congrats to him.”
Nadal, who has won his last 35 sets at Roland Garros and 34 straight matches, will now meet Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine came from 5-1 down and 7 set points to eliminate Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(9), 6-4, 7-5.
“I love this country, I love Paris. I think my best tennis is always here,” Schwartzman told the crowd. “It was not a good clay season, but when I came the first day here, I was feeling very well again. I’m very happy to be back, very happy to be in the quarter-finals again. I’m not very happy to maybe play Rafa in the next round, but let’s see what happens this time.”
Tomorrow, the quarterfinals get underway with Alexander Zverev meeting Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and then at night it’s a big showdown between Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Medvedev leads the Greek star 6-1 but Tsitsipas has had the clay results. Thought that’s changing.
“Playing Stefanos in quarters, by the results this year on clay, he’s definitely in top three, top four, together with Sascha, Novak, and Rafa on clay,” Medvedev said on Sunday. “I’m really looking forward to this match and what I can propose him.
“I learned that I can move really well on clay. Here, I’m able, with these balls, with these conditions, to make shots that not going to let my opponent attack me straightaway. Then I can take control of the game and be a great mover on clay. That’s one part that I learned.”
Tsitsipas is wary of the Medvedev serve.
“He does serve extremely well, I have to say,” Tsitsipas said. “He has improved over the years with his serve. This is going to be something that I will have to face. Of course, myself playing well, I feel like I don’t have to think against who I’m facing or not, I just have to play my game, let the rest be witnessed.”
The two are far from friends and have had on-court confrontations in the past.
TUESDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
** Court Philippe CHATRIER ** Début à 12h00
1 SD Q Tamara ZIDANSEK (SLO) contre Paula BADOSA (ESP) 
2 SD Q Elena RYBAKINA (KAZ)  contre Anastasia PAVLYUCHENKOVA (RUS) 
Pas avant 16h00
3 SM Q Alexander ZVEREV (GER)  contre Alejandro DAVIDOVICH FOKINA (ESP)
Pas avant 21h00
4 SM Q Stefanos TSITSIPAS (GRE)  contre Daniil MEDVEDEV (RUS) 
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